Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A Weekend with a Lot of People

A weekend with a lot of people, or so it seems to us, living in moderate isolation now on the Upper West Side. On Friday we took the Trailways bus to Kingston to stay with T and D, who live near to Woodstock. The two-hour bus ride turned closer to three due to traffic. On arrival, our hosts whisked us to dinner with their friends, G and R, at the Steel House Restaurant. We sat in the patio and watched the boats on the Rondout River. It was very pleasant and relaxing. Before turning in, at T and D's house, we watched an old PBS documentary on being gay. There was nothing very special about the gay men and women interviewed, but perhaps their very ordinariness was part of the point.

The next day T and D drove us to see their friend C, who liked staying with T and D so much that he rented a vacation home near them for his family for a week. The large house, with three double and two single bedrooms, sat on top of a hill and had beautiful views of the country. GH knew C from Cincinnati too. We met his wife and two young children, his parents-in-law, and his brother-in-law and wife. C looked as WASP-ish as they come, his wife was Jewish. The wife of the brother-in-law grew up in Germany, and still held British citizenship. She spoke in both English and German to her toddler. We splashed with the children in the pool, and then worked on a jigsaw puzzle in the low-ceilinged living room. J, the son, was inquisitive, perceptive and delightful. We were invited to have dinner with the family. I was gently quizzed on my Singaporean background and use of the English language. There was a question about what the number on sun block lotion bottles really means. C's father-in-law answered it. He leaned over and told me that he had been a dermatologist before retirement.

C drove us back to T and D, who had left earlier to feed the dogs and take a nap. T played a VHS copy of Fellini's Amarcord, his favorite film by the Italian director. My first Fellini. GH hated its lack of plot and deep characterization. I liked it very much for its dreamy mood and bawdy scenes. It was a lovely depiction of the rhythm and ritual of small-town life seen in the cycle of seasons from spring to spring. The peacock scene, which T loved, was stunning. The boys pelting snowballs at the belle of the town were stopped by the sight of the Count's peacock, fanning open its gorgeous tail feathers. The film was also about men's imaginative desire for women. Writing this now, I am struck by our uncanny resemblance to T and D, at least in our aesthetics. T and I are rangingly intellectual about beauty, whereas D and GH are deeply intuitive.

During breakfast on Sunday, T and I talked about poetry again. I told him about John Ashbery's forthcoming translations of Rimbaud's Illuminations. He had already read about it somewhere. When he discovered that I didn't remember Rimbaud's "Antique," he showed me the poem about the gracious son of Pan. The ending, we agreed, was marvelous. I was very moved, although too embarrassed to show it, when T said the day before that he read my verse aloud to himself and found it musical.

On our way to the bus station, we stopped by G and R's auction place. Two major estates had just come in, and they were busy cataloguing marble busts, iron fretwork, lamps, clocks, pottery, an old-fashioned crib, a polished canoe, and other such remnants for the auction next weekend. We all admired the paintings of a local artist who, through the permutations of style, kept a colorist's eye. She was much better than the local artists that I saw displayed in the front gallery of the Woodstock Museum. After leaving G and R, we had lunch, at T's suggestion, at an old-styled diner. Built like a railway dining car, the restaurant had a sense of its own history, summarized on the cover of the menu. That sense was unfussy, however, and the food was fast and cheap.

Sunday evening we met A and D for drinks at the Rocking Horse Cafe in Chelsea, the same restaurant where we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. The conversation proceeded in typical American style--rapid exchanges of information and anecdotes with little space for questions and thinking--and I took a while to get a word in. A works with electron microscopes in his art and with a big hospital in his day job. D works in IT and is between jobs. We walked over to the Gansevoort Hotel and had more drinks on the rooftop. It was a gayish party, with many women swanning around. We split after an hour or so, and GH and I went dancing in the Greenhouse. A cute Asian boy came up to me, and I could not place his familiar face. It was P.

On Independence Day, we took the one-and-a-half hour train and bus ride to Jacob Riis Park. The park was named after a photographer famous for shooting slums. The beach was no slum, but big abandoned buildings gave it a forsaken atmosphere. We walked to Bay 1 where the gay and the nude congregate. A party of Latinos celebrated the seventh anniversary of Carlo and his man. Their boom box broadcast their cheerfulness. The day was hotter and sunnier than the weatherman had predicted. We were both slightly burned. All the talk about sun block lotion did not help us. I stubbed my big toe while walking and looking at the lifeguards. Favoring it, I felt the other parts of my sole getting sore, unused to the additional pressure. GH and I liked the beach a lot, and will return to it.

In the evening, it was TH's July 4th party, in his apartment in Hell's Kitchen. A's family was there, and many of their gay friends. It was lovely to see WL and M, and then J and P. P and I had a nice conversation about his mentorship of a student in a Bronx high school. I tried to draw out a few other people, but their shyness or shallowness made the effort futile. The fireworks was spectacular, and GH enjoyed the view over the Hudson very much. No open field, barbecue or watermelon, but a high-rise, fried noodles and skewered fruit capped a very pleasant July 4 weekend in New York.

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